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Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

Author: E. Lockhart
Rating: 5/5
Reason for Reading: YA Reading Challenge

Forget everything you know about chick-lit and Young Adult Fiction. Read this book as the primal "I-Am-Woman-Hear-Me-Roar" of a young heroine with the knowledge that she is not only more than a pretty face, she is in every way superior to the boys at her exclusive prep school. The premise of the book is well summed up by this section:

How does a person become the person she is? What are the factors in her culture, her childhood, her education, her religion, her economic stature, her sexual orientation, her race, her everyday interactions-what stimuli lead her to make choices other people will despise her for? This chronicle is an attempt to mark out the contributing elements in Frankie Landau-Banks's character.

When she enters her boarding school, she is reserved, somewhat geeky, and known as her father's "bunny rabbit." Over the summer, she hits a growth spurt that leaves her suddenly of more interest to the boys on campus, and she quickly hooks up with the senior she has had her eyes on. Sophomore year should be floating along smoothly, right?

There's just one problem. As the semester is progressing, she has started to notice that her boyfriend keeps getting called away to mysterious study sessions that she isn't invited to. One night, on a whim, she follows him and discovers that he is really leaving her to attend sessions of The Loyal Order of the Bassett Hounds, the underground club for the good old boys on campus to drink beer, eat, having male bonding time and scheme up pranks. Frankie overhears their lame Halloween prank ideas and decides before too much ado that she could easily come up with something much better.

Of course Frankie can't possibly join the club, because she has has breasts, an automatic exclusion, despite the fact Frankie is sure she is just as smart and devious as any of the other members. And as we learn later on, most likely much more so on the devious and smart side. Frankie doesn't whine or wallow in her frustration, though. Frankie is a strategist. When the leader of the group, Alpha, leaves for a few days on a retreat without the possibility of internet connection, Frankie seizes the opportunity. Via email, she impersonates Alpha and leads the Bassett Hounds in their best-executed prank the school has ever seen. She knows that when Alpha returns his pride won't let him admit to not orchestrating the plan. Giddy with power, she directs the Bassett Hounds into a series of well-timed pranks that lead to social change on campus. She keeps expecting her boyfriend, Matthew to admit to her his membership in the Bassett Hounds, so that she will know how much he loves and trusts her. Why, prank after prank is he not admitting it? Will Alpha guess her identity? Will Frankie break under the pressure? (Umm... not likely.)

If this is your type of book, you'll know it from reading a few selections. So I'll provide them for you.

Here we are introduced to Alabaster, Frankie's prep school:

Information as to the locale and setting of Alabaster, its course requirements, and the sports activities required therein will be given in these pages solely on a need-to-know basis. It is of no relevance to the understanding of either the Loyal Order of the Bassett Hounds, the Fish Liberation Society, or any of the other spurious organizations that committed the so-called crimes at Alabaster, that Frankie Landau-Banks took modern dance and played ultimate Frisbee, though she did. It does not matter that her elective was initially Latin because her father thought she should take it. And it is of no concern how she decorated her dorm room.

Frankie begins to learn that she has power:

Frankie hadn't liked herself while she'd been yelling at Porter-but she had admired herself. For not being the littlest one at the table, like she had been all her childhood...She admired herself for taking charge of the situation, for deciding which way it went. She admired her own verbal abilities, her courage, her dominance.

Frankie's power is discounted by the one person who is supposed to understand her:

(Her boyfriend) had called her harmless. And being with him made Frankie feel squashed into a box-a box where she was expected to be sweet and sensitive (but not oversensitive); a box for young and pretty girls who were not as bright or powerful as their boyfriends. A box for people who were not forces to be reckoned with.

Frankie wanted to be a force.

This books takes itself very seriously, but underneath the Oxford sweater lies a prankster heart. By the time you realize I've been punk'd, this book is silly not serious, you won't care anymore because the book is just so darn good. Being this is a book of the chick-lit persuasive, there were a number of conventional directions E. Lockhart could have taken the ending of this book, all of which would have turned the whole thing into a royal mess. Instead, she leads us through to an unconventional, though very satisfying end. Frankie is a lively, engaging character whose clever quirks make you wish you were as cool as her. And yet you don't hate her for being superior, you just want to take your hat off to her and hope to God she turns her powers to good and not evil when she grows up.


Nymeth said...

This sounds completely different from the kind of book I normally read, and yet I'm sold all the same. Thanks for the review, Kim!

Trish said...

I'm looking for potential summer reading for my step-sister who is 16--what do you think? My poor family, I'm always pressuring everyone to read more. :) But, I've got about half of them on the bandwagon and I'm not about to let down now! Overzealous? Me? :)

Debi said...

Wow...this sounds so totally unique! Think I'll keep my eyes open for this one.

Kim L said...

nymeth-good I hope you do like this book, it is a lot of fun!

trish-I think it would be PERFECT for your 16-year-old stepsister! Even if she doesn't read much, this is a very readable book.

debi-it is a great book! and yes, it is unique :-)

Stephanie said...

I just read another review of this book a few days ago. Looks like it's one I must add to my list!

Anonymous said...

I love that last line that you quoted; for me that section went a long way to summing up what I loved so much about that book, that because she was a girl she was expected to be seen and not heard, when she wanted to do both, preferably at the same time. She loved making people think and wanted more of that power; intellectual power as opposed to the power of influence, which seems to be what the old boy system is based on—so even though I rooted for her from the beginning, I mostly guessed that there was no happy ending for Frankie, taking on the patriarchy for something it could never give her. It was just right though, that end, although I've heard the debates about what else it could mean, via 7Imp. There's so many ways to look at the book! Everyone should read it (and then have debates about it because it is just that good).

♥ Renay